- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A transgender employee will ask a federal appeals court Wednesday to rule her employer violated her rights when it fired her, citing religious objections to her transition from male to female.

Funeral home owner Thomas Rost, who is a Christian, fired Aimee Stephens after she informed him that she would be dressing as a woman while working as a funeral home director.

She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which in turn sued Mr. Rost, citing anti-sex discrimination provisions in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But a federal district court ruled Title VII doesn’t include transgender persons as a protected class, and even if it did, Mr. Rost’s religious beliefs would provide him a defense against the claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Judge Sean F. Cox wrote the funeral home would face “a substantial burden on its ability to conduct business in accordance with its sincerely-held religious beliefs” if it were forced to employ Ms. Stephens.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument Wednesday, following other appeals courts that have already ruled — and split — over job protections for transgender persons.

Title VII outlaws sex discrimination, but doesn’t explicitly apply to discrimination over gender identity.

“Discrimination against Aimee Stephens and other transgender persons is by its very nature sex discrimination, as more and more circuits have agreed,” the American Civil Liberties Union, representing Ms. Stephens, argued in court briefs.

Mr. Rost argues his business is run in accordance with his faith, opening meetings with prayer and offering Christian booklets to mourners at his funeral home.

He said it would violate his sincerely held religious beliefs if he paid for one of his employees to wear a uniform inconsistent with his or her biological sex.

“By causing disruption to the grieving process of mourners, it would also interfere with Rost’s religious calling and mission to serve those who grieve. Rost would be pressured to give up his business rather than violate his religious convictions,” argued Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty law firm representing Mr. Rost in the appeal.

The case comes around the same time the Supreme Court is grappling with how to balance religious liberty and LGBT rights.

The justices will hear a case this term about whether or not a Christian baker must bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in violation of his religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Alliance Defending Freedom is also defending the baker, Jack Phillips, at the high court.

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